President’s Message Fall 2019 IWC Newsletter

Rev. Addae A. Kraba

Rev. Addae A. Kraba

Greetings Members and Friends,

It has been ten years since Unitarian Universalist women from around the world met in Houston, Texas, for the first U*U women’s convocation. The event was never meant to be just a one-time affair, but an ongoing process of coming together and finding voice. Since that first convocation, platforms of communication and collaboration have been created through online internet communities, national meetings, workshops at UUA general assemblies, and international convocations, in order to inform and support grassroots women in their efforts to achieve civil rights.  Since its inception, the International Women’s Convocation has enabled many women worldwide to attain their human rights through access to economic opportunities, health care and security, education, and political expression.

On July 26, 2019 IWC was granted “Special Consultative Status” by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. This status gives us the right to designate official representatives to the UN Headquarters in New York and its offices in Geneva and Vienna. IWC representatives can also register for and participate in events, conferences, and activities of the UN, as well as submit written statements or make oral presentations relevant to the work of the Council on subjects in which we are especially competent. We are already making our presence felt at the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), the most comprehensive global policy framework and blueprint for women’s empowerment. The commemoration is a global mobilization: a rallying point to achieve the human rights of all women and girls. In line with its new special consultative status, IWC is planning to send a sizeable delegation to the 64th Session of the CSW (March 9 to 20, 2020). If you would like to participate as a member of the IWC delegation, please email us at

IWC owes a debt of gratitude to its members, stakeholders, board of directors, and committed partner organizations for their hard work in supporting women and girls worldwide. I extend a special thanks to outgoing board member Kathy Burek, for her expertise and tireless efforts dedicated to completing our new strategic plan and vision for the next five years.

Let us carry the torch for women’s empowerment together in 2020!

Rev. Addae A. Kraba



Join Us for CSW64 in New York City, March 9-20, 2020

CSW63 Commission on the Status of Women 11-22 Mar 2019

IWC Representatives Phyllis Marsh and Julie Steinbach at CSW63

Every year in March, the United Nations hosts meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Next year, the event will take place from March 9 to 20.

The CSW is an enormous event, attracting thousands of people.  Sessions on the UN campus document the reality of women’s lives worldwide and crafts a formal statement of goals and agendas for the coming year.  At the same time, there are presentations and workshops at the UN and at other venues in the area.  IWC has had a small delegation at the previous two CSW sessions.

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), the most comprehensive global policy framework and blueprint for women’s empowerment. The main focus of CSW’s 64th Session (CSW64) is the assessment of current challenges that affect the implementation of the Platform for Action and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and its contribution towards the full realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As IWC was granted special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this past summer, its presence at CSW64 is valuable. We hope to have a considerable delegation and are applying to host a side event.

Plan to join us for at least part of CSW64 (you don’t need to come for the whole thing)! If you are interested in being a member of the IWC delegation, please contact Rev. Carol Huston or 914-830-5414.



UNiTE to End Violence against Women and Girls: Join the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, from Nov. 25th to Dec 10th

Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

Join the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women)
Through December 10 (Human Rights Day)!

The 25th of every month has been designated “Orange Day” by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence Against Women, to raise awareness and take action to end violence against women and girls. As a bright and optimistic color, orange represents a future free from violence against women and girls.

This year’s global campaign theme, “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape!” reinforces the UNiTE Campaign’s commitment to a world free from violence for all women and girls around the world, calling on people from all walks of life to learn more and take a stand against the pervasive rape culture that surrounds us.

Rape is rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power, and control that continue to create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalized. Exact numbers of rape and sexual assaults are notoriously difficult to confirm due to frequent latitude and impunity for perpetrators, stigma towards survivors, and their subsequent silence.

On 25 November, wear orange and “orange” physical spaces including your workplaces, significant monuments in your cities, and communities, online spaces such as the websites etc. Use the hashtags #OrangeTheWorld, #GenerationEquality and #16days to show how you orange the world – how you are taking action!

For more information and action ideas, please click here.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General Quote

Report on IWC’s 2019 Annual Meeting

On September 11, 2019, IWC held its annual meeting online for the first time, on the Zoom platform. IWC President Addae A. Kraba greeted the participants from around the world and Rev. Carol Huston offered a message commemorating 9/11, highlighting that “people in the U.S. experienced fear and violence that others experience all the time in other parts of the world. May our projects alleviate that fear and remind others that this fear exists; may we move past the fear for hope and gratitude.”

The meeting featured a presentation by Julie Steinbach, Chair of IWC’s outreach committee, focusing on women’s empowerment projects in Kenya and IWC’s legacy in Uganda. The first part of the presentation covered Julie’s recent time spent in Kampala, Uganda visiting a school affiliated with the African Rural Schools Foundation (ARSF), whose mission is to build schools for children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. IWC partnered with ARSF to implement a successful micro-loan program offering business training to 54 women and small loans to 40 women entrepreneurs (2010-2018).

Julie pointed out that the school’s electricity needs are increasingly supplied by solarization. The education includes religious education covering a broad range of religious traditions. It was interesting to note that the students stood up the whole time that the visitors were in the classroom, out of respect – that is their cultural expectation.

Julie’s next stop was Mumias, Western Kenya, where she learned about Acacia in Kenya, an outreach project of First Parish UU in Waltham, MA. Acacia’s mission is education and empowerment for young women in Western Kenya, giving young women the opportunity to go to high school.
Acacia in Kenya Girls - on Full Scholarship

We learned that the girls at the St. Elizabeth Lureko Girls’ School in Mumias are required to keep their hair very short so that hair care does not become a distraction from their studies. We also learned that the students celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day in May to break the stigma of menstruation. 4 out of 5 girls in East Africa lack access to health education and sanitary pads. For more information, please watch Julie’s presentation here:

The business meeting continued with several reports and the election of new officers and board members, welcoming new board members Beth O’Connell (France/USA), Krisztina Pap (Germany/Romania), and Peg Swain (USA). Please see more information about our new board here.

Rev. Addae A. Kraba concluded the meeting with words from Rev. Dr. Dorothy Mae Emerson, who recently passed away: “Go shining!”

President’s Message, Summer, 2019

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Greetings, members and friends!

The International Women’s Convocation had a busy spring, participating in two events in New York City – the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meetings in March, and in the UU-UNO Intergenerational Seminar on Gender Equity in April.

At the Intergenerational Seminar, IWC board members from India (Elgiva Shullai), Philippines (Rev. Elvira Sienes), and Romania (Gizella Nagy) took part in a workshop conversation on gender equity in a global context, and IWC executive director Zsófia Sztranyiczki gave participants  fascinating insights  on how gender is constructed in various languages, highlighting gender biases that shape and reinforce gender inequity across cultures. Please read Elgiva, Elvira, and Gizella’s reflections on the seminar on pages 2-3 of this newsletter.

At the conclusion of the intergenerational seminar, the IWC organized its own event on global women’s empowerment and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Women’s Association of the UU Church of the Philippines, formalizing their ongoing collaboration to promote women’s equality, development, social justice, security, and peace. Please see the report on pages 4-5; the summary of the latest AWAKE training to prevent violence against women and girls in the Philippines (Siapo, Negros Oriental) is found on pages 6-7.

General Assembly is in Spokane, Washington later this month; if you  are attending, we hope you will plan to be at our poster session on Thursday, June 20, noon to 1:30 pm in Exhibit Hall A. IWC treasurer Geri Kennedy and board members Kathy Burek and Karen Kortsch are looking forward to greeting and chatting with members, friends, and interested passers-by. This is a wonderful occasion for you to get to know us better, find out more about our organization, and get answers to any questions you might have.

If you are passionate about women’s empowerment around the world and are looking for the opportunity to serve while making a global difference, the International Women’s Convocation might be your place! We are currently seeking individuals interested in joining our various committees; if you are interested, please send us an email at

Our Annual Meeting this year will not take place at the UUA General Assembly but on the ZOOM online platform in September. The specific date and time as well as other important details will be announced soon.

As we mourn the passing of Rev. Dr. Dorothy May Emerson, we also remember how her work changed the landscape of Unitarian Universalism. Her passion and commitment to U*U women and women’s leadership were exemplary. We are honored to follow in her footsteps as we continue the work of empowerment and equality for women and girls worldwide.

IWC Signs Agreement of Collaboration with UU Women’s Association of Philippines

By Zsófia Sztranyiczki, IWC Executive Director

IWC Signs Agreement of Collaboration with UU Women’s Association of Philippines

On April 13, 2019 in New York City, IWC president Rev. Addae Ama Kraba and Rev. Ma. Elvira Peras Sienes, coordinator of the Women’s Association of the UU Church of the Philippines (UUCP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining key areas of collaboration.  The event was preceded by a panel discussion on global gender equity, which was open to the public. In attendance were several IWC board members and friends.

The panel discussion, which was live streamed on Facebook (available for viewing on IWC’s Facebook page) highlighted U*U women’s work for global women’s empowerment, challenges, and accomplishments; it also explored ways of engagement and further action. U*U women leaders Gizella Nagy from Romania, Elgiva Shullai from India, and Rev. Sienes from the Philippines talked about their ongoing efforts to advance gender equality, highlighting the need to expand education about women’s rights, build women’s capacity and self-esteem, and provide opportunities to change the status quo. One of the most difficult challenges they are confronted with is changing patriarchal mindsets and norms: such attitudes and values are so ingrained in the cultures of the three panelists, that even women end up embracing the very beliefs that disrespect them, endanger their lives, or diminish their worth.  All agreed that men and boys need to be part of the solution as allies in the cause of gender equality.

After the signing ceremony, Ms. Nagy presented 850 USD to Rev. Sienes, representing the collection from Unitarian churches in Transylvania in honor of International Women’s Day 2018, for the benefit of UU women in the Philippines. UNOSZ has engaged in IWC’s International Women’s Day initiative for the last 4 years, with the plate collections each year being directed to women’s empowerment projects led by U*U women and organizations.

The formal agreement of collaboration signed between IWC and the Women’s Association of the UUCP lays the foundation for a productive exchange, helping to develop a long and fruitful partnership builds on sharing resources, expanding cooperation, and working together on projects for women’s equality, development, social justice, security, and peace.


AWAKE Seminar Helps Change Gender Perceptions in Siapo, Philippines

By Rev. Ma. Elvira Peras Sienes, the Philippines

AWAKE Seminar Helps Change Gender Perceptions in Siapo, Philippines

The AWAKE (Awake Women and Men Through Knowledge and Education) Seminar on the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls was implemented in Siapo, San Jose, Negros Oriental, on three consecutive Saturdays in February 2019.

Siapo has a small UU congregation; most of its members are small-scale farmers; a few work for the government or the private sector. 22 attended the first day of training, four of which were men. Men are usually the breadwinners and most work all day long (only very few men can attend church even on Sundays).

Rev. Rebecca Quimada-Sienes started the training, singing together the song for reflection entitled “Buta” (Blind). The song depicts the reality of women living in a “culture of silence:” if they witness or become victims of a violent situation, if their rights are violated, they will just keep quiet and choose not to tell because they are frightened. The sharing of reflection of the song was very moving since it opened the opportunity for the women to share their thoughts and – to some degree – even their personal experiences. That activity turned out to be a good warm-up for the day.

The second topic that Rev. Rebecca tackled was the “personal perception of women by women.” In this activity, the participants were asked to write down their thoughts about “women in general.” After the activity, I helped in the processing of the shared thoughts. The results indicated that the participants’ perception about women is greatly influenced by the prevailing Filipino culture.

I continued with a lecture on the “history of women’s oppression,” attributed to Spanish (and partly to American and Japanese) colonization in the Philippines. This topic made participants understand why there is violence and why it is so rampant even in the most secure place we call “home.”

On the succeeding Saturday, February 9, I was the facilitator of the workshop on the “personal perception of men by men.” Of the 25 attendees, only 6 were men. Since they were very few, I decided to include the women in the workshop; women were asked to share their perception about men in general.

What transpired was that a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture enforces the notion that men are first-class citizen while women are second-class, even “possessions” of men. I stressed that this is the very reason why seminars and workshops are so important, for women and men both, to understand and deepen the understanding of the root causes of violence in the family, institutional structures, and society at large. This activity led me to discuss “the oppressors” and “the oppressed.” I tried to emphasize that the purpose of the discussion was not to undermine the potential of men or to personally attack them. I strongly encouraged everyone to share their thoughts and even personal experience related to the topic. It was indeed a fruitful day for all of us!

The third and final day (February 16) focused on the Philippine law RA 9262, The Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act (VAWC) of 2004. It is a special law that defines acts of violence against women and their children, penalizes such acts, and provides protective measures and remedies.

A member of the Barangay/Village Council, who is also the VAWC Desk Officer, discussed the definition and types of violence against women and children and the protection orders this law provides. A lot of sharing happened during this day. One woman confessed, “something really happened in ourselves; if we are just willing to change our mindset and embrace new ideas, we can achieve change in the family, which will eventually resonate in the community. Let us always keep in mind that we, women, have equal rights. We just need to practice and use our rights if we want to achieve something.

In closing, I highlighted that each of us has the power to prevent abuse. I encouraged all to work together for lasting change: a peaceful, violence-free world.

I want to personally thank all who contributed to IWC’s Faithify fund raising efforts to make the AWAKE training possible in Philippine UU communities. Together, we can change the world!

Spotlighting Women’s Rights and Gender-Based Violence for Shillong Circle Unitarians

By Major Elgiva Dora Shullai, Seng Kynthei, India

Training To Prevent Violence Against Women in ShillongOn February 19, 2019, 35 participants – including men and youth – took part in the awareness program on violence against women and children at Nongthymmai, organized by Seng Kynthei, the Women’s Wing of the North East India Unitarian Union. Invitations had been sent out to all men, women, and youth of the six to seven congregations in the Shillong circle. We were happy to see a few senior mothers, who seemed genuinely concerned with the safety and security of the new generation. Even though the event took place during the winter holidays for youth and government workers, inclement weather hindered a much larger participation.

The two resource persons of the program were Gina Phanbuh and Balarisha Lyngdoh, both experienced trainers. They work with a prominent NGO, The Northeast Network, a women’s rights organization operating in Meghalaya and in neighboring states.

Seng Kynthei Secretary Dr. Creamlimon Nongbri welcomed everyone and gave a brief introduction to the importance of this awareness program.

Balarisha Lyngdoh started with the section on Gender, explaining how ‘understanding gender is the key to achieving gender equity.’ Gender is a role created by us as a society where we consciously or unconsciously condition our children to adhere to various roles, expectations, rules, and norms that will eventually lead to gender inequality and all its negative effects. This also results in the misuse and abuse of the power between the powerful and the powerless, which invariably leads to violence. Most victims are women and children.

The sensitive subject was tactfully delivered to suit all audiences using audio-visual aids such as gentle explanation, white board, video, and slideshows to catch important points to remember and practice.

We were made aware that we had all played our part, as a society, in getting us where we are with this social menace. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to advance gender equality. In the prevention aspects, we are encouraged to be non-discriminating and non-judgmental; to teach our children to respect one another; and to enable our children and family members to grow and live peacefully while maintaining the safety and security of each person in the community.

Prevent Violence Against Women, Shillong, India

After a short lunch break, our second resource person Gina Phanbuh focused on women’s rights. She explained the difference between ‘needs’ (air, water, food, shelter, clothing, family, money, etc.) and ‘rights’ (e.g. the freedom to make decisions and take responsibility; equal respect to every individual in every space no matter their sexual orientation; equal right to an education; sexual and reproductive health and rights; the right to work and equal pay for equal work; right to property; and the right of access to public information).  ‘Women’s rights are human rights’ she reminded us. ‘More than 180 nations have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and more countries are signing it as we speak.’

Needs and rights are interlinked and interdependent; they are basic requirements for human beings to live a healthy, productive, and meaningful life. Women are entitled to their rights, but we are far from a world where every woman and girl can realize and enjoy her human rights. It is the duty of every government to look after its citizens and to provide for basic needs and rights. Gina stressed that every woman must know her rights and the various governmental laws and policies that relate to those rights.

Overall, it was a very educational and interactive workshop that made all of us more aware and conscious of our roles and responsibilities to prevent violence and bring about peace and consistency in our communities.

At the conclusion of the program, we all read the White Ribbon Pledge together.

Seng Kynthei President Kong Battinora Rani summed up the event, thanking all the participants and organizers.

I thank all who have actively supported us in every possible way to educate and bring awareness programs at the grassroots level, and to all those who are promoting the welfare of women and girls in Meghalaya.

The President’s Message

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba


IWC is committed to empowering women globally and advancing gender equality. As we continue to further this important mission, we recognize that collaborating with groups who have corresponding missions is vital. We may have dropped plans for a women’s gathering in the Boston area this coming spring with representatives of U.S.-based UU women’s organizations, but you can be sure that constructive discussions with the UU Women’s Federation and UU Women &Religion continue. We look forward to opportunities for greater collaboration.

February is Black History month, and more businesses than ever recognize and celebrate the achievements of African Americans and the contributions they’ve made on the world stage. The focused highlighting of a people and their culture provides an opportunity to gain more information about the unsung African Americans left on the margins, particularly women.

“Equity in Action: Gender in an Intersecting World” is the theme of the Intergenerational Spring Conference of the UU-UNO (April 11-13, 2019). This theme serves as motivation to develop new and more creative ways of empowering and supporting women. Following the conference, we welcome the opportunity of engaging with global sisters from Romania, India and the Philippines as they address Gender Equity in a panel discussion at Community Church of New York. Please join us!

The United Nation’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” We have reason to celebrate the increasing numbers of women who are inspired and empowered to enter into roles that have been traditionally male-dominated. Please join us in honoring and celebrating International Women’s Day in 2019: a comprehensive packet for congregations is available for download/consultation, on our website.

The trajectory of empowering women continues upwards globally. A pilot leadership development program was successfully completed in Bolivia, where women took part in workshops that not only focused on leadership and entrepreneurship, but on topics aimed at increasing awareness of violence. Violence against women is also being addressed by the Seng Kynthei Women’s Wing of the Northeast India Unitarian Union and the UU Women’s Association of Philippines in comprehensive programs that engage men in strategies to reduce and prevent gender-based violence. IWC is justly proud to have assisted all three of these important programs.

2018 will be remembered for its activism, mostly led by grassroots groups and unwavering individuals. Let us carry that same spirit forward into 2019, inspired by the incredible power, resolve, and boldness of women around the globe.

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba, IWC President

45 Women Take Part in a Pilot Leadership Program in Bolivia

by Calixta Choque Churata, Xiomara Sainz Salinas, and Zsófia Sztranyiczki


Program graduates with their certificates

The pilot leadership development program in Bolivia – implemented thanks to the generous support of people who contributed on Faithify, a UU crowd funding website – concluded on November 11, 2018. The bi-weekly training courses in sewing, hairdressing, and baking – over a three-month period – were complemented with workshops addressing Economic Empowerment and Economic Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Gender and Society (with a special topic on masculinity, machoism, and femicides), Prevention of Domestic/Family Violence, and Spirituality and Meditation.

The closing of the pilot program was a moving ceremony where the families of 40 out of the program’s 45 participants congregated in a shared lunch prepared by the participants themselves. The families included children, mothers, and relatives; a representative of the Board of Neighbors of the town of Viacha also honored the event with his presence.

viacha-bolivia-womens-leadership-training-programThe graduates of the program exhibited their works, talked about what they learned, their experiences, as well as their dreams and hopes. The sewing class displayed sportswear, cholita skirts, and jackets. The baking class provided cakes, pies, and puddings. The hairdressing class presented a variety of hairstyles, haircuts, makeups and fantasy makeups. The training course with the most participants was hairdressing; it also had the greatest number of young people (some in high school), who found in hairdressing a potential source of employment and income – since the course already enabled them to work during periods of high demand.

In thanking IWC for the opportunities that the program created, the women asked project leaders and the local team (Calixta Choque Churata, Xiomara Sainz Salinas, and Olga Flores Bedregal) to convey their desire to continue with this initiative. They feel the need to continue not only for themselves – but for their families as well.viacha-bolivia-womens-leadership-training-program3a

These courses were an inspiring spark for participants to think about paths to better livelihoods and to confront their situation of gender marginality. During the training, the participants established a neighborhood organization of women, realizing that a union would make them stronger: a sorority environment is the way to support each other and face hardships together. As Olga Flores Bedregal put it, “the more knowledge and tools are put in women´s hands, the more impact they will have toward a greater autonomy of women.”

The IWC is now looking forward to exploring next steps with the local team, building on the experiences of the pilot training.  The discussions will focus on program sustainability, developing capacities for long-term success, and strengthening women’s community.


Calixta (in green), with graduates
of the baking class

It was once said that a leader is someone who ‘lifts us up, gives us a reason for being and gives the vision and spirit to change.” Project leader Calixta Choque Churrata, who undertook most of the planning, organization, and logistics of the pilot program, is a leader who inspires. Here’s her message to everyone who supported the pilot program: “For my part, I thank you for making these training courses possible and bringing hope of improvement to the women of the District 7 and the municipality of Viacha, who are confronting many hardships. Thank you for encouraging us to look beyond and dream of the future.”



Delia (in the middle) with her certificate

Bolivia Pilot Program Participant Shares Her Experiences

My name is Delia Alexandra Fernández Vargas.

I am 18 years old. This is my last year of school. I want to go to the university. I am thinking of studying biochemistry.

I took the hairdressing training course because I like to learn hairstyles, hair care, new looks. I learned many useful things: for example, skin lightening, facial cleaning, hair care, massages, hair and skin hydration, new looks, and types of hair dyes. The teacher was very good. She knows her profession. I see myself doing hairstyles, hair dyes, or facial cleaning. I can offer these new skills.

This training will definitely help me in the future. I wish I could learn so much more. The training course lasted a short time.  I would recommend more classes per week and specific sessions (one day only for massages for example).

I am grateful for what I learned. My heartfelt thanks go to all the people who gave us the opportunity of taking these courses.